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tv   Washington Week  PBS  September 29, 2012 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT

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have four more years of barack obama. >> we tried what they are selling. we tried it for a decade. it didn't work then and won't work now. gwen: countdown to election day. and on the airwaves, the big debate looms, 40 days to go as the candidates drill down on the economy. >> you think if we spend another $5 trillion on tax cuts for the wealthiest americans, all our problems are going to go away? >> his plan is the spluss, how did the first one go. how much of it did you get? it was cash for clunkers. did you get help from that? gwen: and duke it on foreign policy. >> i'm pretty certain there will be bumps in the road because in a lot of these places, the one organizing brell has been islam. >> he said the developments in
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the middle east are bumps in the road. [laughter] >> yeah, that was my reaction. bumps in the road? these are not bumps in the road. these are human lives. gwen: the candidates, the polls, the issues, the voters, we are in the heartland tonight. covering the week, charles babington of the associated press, nia-malika henderson of the "washington post." jim tankersley of "national journal" and jeff delaney of the "new york times." >> this is a special election 2012 edition of "washington week with gwen ifill and national jol"naur. public fding for "washington week" in st. louis" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here, to chart a greener path in the air and in our factories. to fund cleaner, more more
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efficient ways. >> and harness our technology for new energy solutions. >> around the globe, the people of boeing are working together to build a better tomorrow. >> that's why we're here. >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875, we have been there for our clients through good times and bad, when their needs changed, we were there to meet them. through the years from insurance to investment management, from real estate to retirement solutions, we have developed nea ideas for the financial challenges ahead. this rock has never stood still. and that's one thing that will never change. prudential. >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by norfolk southern and american queen steamboat
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company. additional funding is provided by the annen burg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and contributions from viewers like you. thank you. once again from the performing arts center from the university of missouri, st. louis, moderator, gwen ifill. gwen: hello, st. louis. welcome. thank you for coming out and thanks for joining us here at the university of missouri. the presidential race is shifting before our eyes and it's all about the numbers. mitt romney is working to regain ground. barack obama is pouring millions of dollars into ads to steal the deal. voters are heading to the polls in two dozen states and both sides are bracing for the unexpected, especially when it comes to the economy. and that's with less than six
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weeks left. if the election were held today, what would we expect, jeff? >> if the election would be held today and it is, it is a question that governor romney's campaign dismissed saying it is not being held today. i was in iowa yesterday, thousands of people have voted in almost at the end of this month, 30 states will have voted. if the election was today, president obama has command. in battleground states from nevada, up to new hampshire and down to florida in nine battle ground states, the president is in command of this race and that's not an assessment of the polls, although he has an advantage in the polls but republicans in the romney campaign as well. that doesn't mean this race is over. there are a lot of things can happen. the debate next week. there is a recognition inside the romney campaign that governor romney needs to sort of find within him to make a better
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argument, a clear argument through advertising and other things. and we still have time to see him do that. gwen: and we are talking dozens of polls that we have been all reading and consuming for the last couple of weeks, to the point that people say, should we believe these polls especially when they make a uniform turn, what are you hearing about that? >> the polls are moving in the direction that jeff talked about, so there might be that type of fault or fault with another poll, but you can't ignore the can cumulative direction of all these polls. a lot of people, especially in the romney camp are trying to figure out what has happened. and we have been working on that story. one thing that we think has happened is that a lot of people -- americans started tuning in around the conventions. romney took his advertisements off the air and didn't think it would be a good time to air ads
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and obama kept his ads heavily on tv. and back-to-back conventions and many thought the democrats had a better convention. bill clinton's speech was the high point of the two conventions, but the verdict of the american people was that the democrats had a better convention. and it seems like that's about the time that these polls started opening up. gwen: walk us through the map, when we say battle ground states and jeff talked about nevada. there is a lot of states in between. what are the states you are charting? >> you are looking at florida, virginia, ohio. i think it's very telling that at this point, the romney campaign is -- and he was there in michigan or today and said he thought he would be competitive there and thought he would win. no ads so far up there for his campaign. if you look at one state that he seems to be doing well in,
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that's north carolina. obama won that by 14,000 votes. gwen: that's really narrow. >> a state like indiana, that was a state that obama won last time. romney will win that. everyone is surprised that all of these polls are pretty much saying obama is in command of the lead. chuck talked about they lost august. one reading is that they lost the summer, the romney campaign. if you look at obama did, they did, at the start of this race was in may. that's when they started going out with tough ads and framing romney as someone who wasn't in touch with the middle class and the tax issue, him releasing his tax returns. he was always on the defensive and now he has a lot of ground to make up. gwen: is there an argument to be made that there is a policy shift going on in america's mind as well, not just a good speech
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or a good piece of positioning, but actually people are looking at their choices differently now? >> there are ways to think of this, not just through polling data but economic data and there is a surge of optimism. small business confidence is up. some financial market participant indexes are up. this would suggest that people are starting to feel better about this recovery. a lot of interesting questions as to why because the data don't support that. we have been having a slow recovery for three years now and people have gotten used to it. it is like a lukewarm bath. any drop of hot water, you think it will heat up entirely. gwen: the flip side is is that, if you heat it up a little more -- [laughter] >> but the other -- part of that is, if you are starting to see
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uptick in your personal finances, paying off credit card debt, housing is getting better, even if growth isn't picking up or job numbers, we are seeing small, but measurable improvements in people's lives. gwen: candidates came out with ads and looked at the camera and tried to make the case, the case you hear being made far later in the campaign. let's listen to both of them and then come back on the other side. >> during the last weeks of this campaign, there will be debates, speeches and more ads. it's time for a new economic patriotism. rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong, growing middle class. read my plan and compare it to governor romney and decide for yourself. >> too many of those who are working are living pay check to
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pay check trying to make falling incomes meet rising prices for food and gas. more americans are living in poverty than when president obama took office, and 15 million more are on food stamps. gwen: interesting to me that picks up on what you were saying is this idea that people feel pretty good about the economy, but we have the democrats -- the republican talking about poverty and food stamps and the democrats preaching optimism, what's up with that? >> the democrats are in charge. if the role was reversed, you would hear different messages, although some things would be the same. president obama has talked about the middle class throughout the summer. and if you talked to the obama campaign, they think that is why their economic message has resonated so much because the middle class has been in trouble for a long time. the flip side of that is governor romney is having to try to sell voters on the idea that things are so bad that they
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can't re-elect the incumbent. the position was, they started from that position, voters aren't going to re-elect this guy and they were going to win. the fact they are making that case now is the reason why they have shifted. >> as jim pointed out from the very beginning, romney's strategy was that the -- essentially obama would sink of the weight of the economy and wasn't an implausible idea and still mike work and unemployment has been above 8% for 4 straight months but it is not getting over the line. the republicans are taken aback by that and don't seem to have as strong a plan b as perhaps in retrospect that they wish they will have h had had. since they aren't willing to fire obama because of the economy, there is a sense that
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romney hasn't shown enough detail of how he would make it better. and that's how you saw president obama said, look at my plan and that's the -- i have the details. gwen: what could happen. we heard the president talk about bumps in the road and there was to the fact that foreign policy could knock this whole thing off course or hurt. >> it could. if you talk to the president's re-election advisers in chicago, that is the top thing that worries them. they can control a lot or control the message a lot. but foreign affairs is a problem for them. potential problem for them. and we have seen it this week. look at the attacks in libya and benghazi. this story line is continuing. gwen: in part because the explanation is -- >> the white house has been all over the map on this. for several days the white house from the podium, jay carney and
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administration officials across the board were insistent that the attacks in libya were caused by this video that was on the internet. they finally acknowledged that it actually was an act of terrorism. if congress was in session right now, i think this would be a real potential problem for this administration and the president because there would be hearings and a concerted effort to find out what happened in benghazi. as of now, i'm not sure that that will sort of turn the election probably gause governor romney has been ham-handed how he has reacted to this. but that is one of the wild cards here in this race that the obama administration and the president cannot control. gwen: except that, the upside, he's the guy with the job and hard to unseat an incumbent and the downside, he's the guy with the job? >> you saw romney try to come
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out early and he did make those comments seeming to suggest that obama was siding with the attackers and tried to pick this with the comment of bumps in the road. romney does seem to go from pillar to post in terms of picking on themes but doesn't necessarily carry them through and he hasn't been able to make a case that he could do a better job in handling problems in the middle east. i think most americans know it is incredibly complicated situation over there. and i don't think he has yet made a compelling argument that he could do a better job handling that. gwen: one of the things that is out of the president's control is congress and this fiscal cliff dilemma that we are about to face, by the end of the year, if they don't do something, there will be across-the-board budget cuts. has that seeped in and the way voters are wrestling with this? >> doesn't appear to be affecting voters but affecting
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companies. there was a c.e.o. survey out and much more bearish in terms of the economy than consumers. and they are much more tuned in to the possibility that taxes will go up and federal spending will go away if they can't fix the fiscal cliff. i doubt it will be that big of an issue in most voters' minds. somewhere here in missouri or ohio is going to have a hard time connecting those dots. gwen: what is going to happen next, because we are at the edge of our seats. all of these questions that we keep raising, all of these unanswered, what's going to affect the outcome question and are the polls telling us where america is, might begin to be answered at the debate? are we raising expectations too high? >> the base is a great institution. i'm glad we have them structured the way they are. there is a question about how much they can move, as jeff
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said, a lot of people have already voted. i will say this, i do think this notion that barack obama is a master debater may not be quite right. his best formatis speaking to a large crowd from a microphone. both of them are smart and well prepared and all that. but if you look at some of the republican primary debates, mitt romney did well. if you go in that obama is so great in communicating, you might be surprised. gwen: primary debates had eight people on the stage and tried to yell at the moderator too often, but the question is, who is really the better debater? is it all spin at this point? >> it is all spin. because there is not much going on, there is a bit of a vacuum in the room now. the romney campaign -- governor
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romney has spent a lot of time practicing. he did five full mock debates. and he has lined up senator rob portman from ohio to play barack obama, the same person who played senator obama four years ago and advisers say he is letting him have it. gwen: wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall? >> it is a final time for governor romney to reset the race or get people to take a second look. millions of people will be watching the debate. it is way too early to judge anything. it is probably premature to be voting without watching. gwen: on that point, a lot of people -- there are only a very narrow sliver of people who say they are undecided. not surprising that people don't
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use the debates to decide but use it for something else. >> that's right. most people will go into these debates, if you like obama, you will think he did a debate job. romney has said that he wants to use the debates as a clarifying moment. he thinks the democrats have waged an inaccurate campaign. he has said he expects obama to tell more untruths on the debate stage but he thinks there is a real opportunity for him. there is congratulations from the romney campaign, what a great debater obama is and in some ways they are mediocre debaters. there have been some mistakes. obama is likeable enough moment with hillary clinton. gwen: think of the debates you have covered, chuck -- >> because i'm old.
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[laughter] gwen: which once would you say have made a difference in the outcome? >> well, i'm not actually this old -- [laughter] >> clearly when gerald ford said that the poland not under soviet domination that was one of his memorable type of gaffes and the big putdown from lloyd bentsten and dan quayle. they don't have a moment where they say that guy is clearly better than the other guy. they are both well prepared. these are smart people. and not likely to make a mistake. romney's great hope is he can use these debates to reset the campaign. it's a tough hill to climb.
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>> if you think back to the 2000 campaign, al gore may have won the debates, but george w. bush exceeded his expectations and did fine. four years later, john kerry at least in some of the eyes probably was a better debater but didn't necessarily matter. chuck is right, it is difficult to reset it. but there are a lot of voters who are completely fine with a new president, i think, even some people who voted for president obama. i was talking to a voter a week ago in wisconsin and said he voted for obama four years ago and not sure at all. he is open to voting for governor romney if he knew what he stood for. that is governor romney's charge here to put some meat on the bones of what he stands for on his policies. and people are open to that. >> jim, imagine yourself as a debate moderator this week and put on your mask and go with it.
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what kind of questions would you like to see these candidates address that will actually speak to the concerns you hear voters have about the future of this country? >> there is one question and i don't want to tell jim what to do but ask it different ways, and that is how in the world what you are proposing enough to get this country back to work, because neither of these candidates has a plan and by their own party's ideology and i want him to push them on that and that would be an opportunity for the president to explain what it is and it is not just incremental, but an opportunity for governor romney to make that pitch to voters, hey, i have a plan that's different, and something we haven't tried before that is going to be new. it will be a reagan moment for him and instill confidence and it will be important to 13 million people out of work.
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>> what kind of question might crystalize? >> i would ask barack obama, you have been in four years and say you can make things better, why didn't you do it for four years? and i would ask mitt romney, where are the details? you say you can get us on the track towards a balanced budget and at the same time cut taxes and increase military spending. you say you are going to get rid of some of these tax loopholes, name three of them right here and now. >> on obamacare, how are his plans different than what bush put into place, how does he work with this new congress, what would be different in terms of going forward and how would he be able to push his agenda through. >> this will be an interesting thing to watch. if republicans continue to be sort of agitated how the romney campaign is going, will
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republicans shift their focus entirely from the presidential race to the senate. republicans want to win the senate and looks less likely than it did a few months ago. the senate races are going to be a battle for control of the senate will be as important as the presidential race. gwen: it may play out right here in missouri where we have a competitive senate race where you have seen a lot of folks who condemned the republican nominee because they see a chance of winning the senate over. this is going to be so much fun. it was a good conversation. we don't want it to end and we are going to keep talking online and take questions from our audience. you don't have to be here to join in. go online and watch "washington week" election 2012 town hall, st. louis edition." thanks to our friends here at
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the university of missouri, st. louis and to our partners at 9network, st. louis. join me next wednesday night for live coverage for the first presidential debate. that is on air and streaming live at 9:00 p.m. eastern. and see you next week on "washington week"." good night. [applause] >> corporate funding for "washington week" in st. louis" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here.
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